Harveys Lake History

Smith Flying Service

The Smith Flying Service was a scenic flight service over the Lake operated by K. Russell Smith (1904-1969) from 1937-1961. He was the son of Dr. A. Burton Smith, a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during WWI, later the medical surgeon for the Pennsylvania Coal Company, and later a surgical staff member at the Nesbitt Hospital, Kingston.

Smiths Flying Plane

FCP Collection c. 1935

K. Russell Smith's family expected their son to also become a physician. K Russell Smith graduated from Wyoming Seminary and he attended the University of Pennsylvania but he wanted to become an airplane pilot. The Wilkes-Barre/Wyoming Valley airport opened in late June 1929 and K. Russell Smith received his private pilot license in September 1930 after completing aviation school at the Forty Fort airport.

K. Russell Smith became a pilot at Forty Fort and a Fairchild airplane distributor for NEPA in late 1931. In later years he was also a Cessna airplane dealer. He opened a commercial and passenger air service in May 1934 with a four-plane fleet and was licensed to train private and commercial pilots. He also offered air taxi service, aerial photography, aerial advertising and aircraft maintenance and service.

Smiths Flying Plane

An early Smith plane, 1939.

In 1936 Smith acquired the region's first locally-owned seaplane, flying it to Forty Fort from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, NY, presumably for flights from the Susquehanna River adjacent to the Forty Fort airport.

In July 1937 Smith began weekend air tours at Harvey's Lake with a Taylor Cub seaplane (which evolved into the Piper Cub company). He was based at a dock near the Lake's amusement park. In the months preceding Pearl Harbor Smith was appointed as Chief Warden for the Luzerne County Defense Council.

Smiths Flying Plane

K. Russell Smith
Courtesy, Pamela Smith Walsh

In 1943-1944 more than 700 aviation cadets were educated at Bucknell University Junior College (now Wilkes University), known as the U.S. Army Air Corps 6th College Detachment. Many cadets would serve as pilots and navigators during World War II. K. Russell Smith held the government contract to train the cadets at Forty Fort with six training planes. The cadets were housed at the Hotel Sterling and YMCA, Wilkes-Barre, and participated in a series of 10-hour basic training courses. Upon completion of their training cadets transferred to U.S. Army Air Force bases elsewhere in the country. (In 1973 Wilkes was selected to host an Air Force ROTC program which is still in operation.)

After the 6th College Detachment cadet program ceased in 1944 Bucknell University Junior College offered a government-approved private pilot certification program in association with the Smith Flying Service.

Smith's Lake summer service may have been suspended during World War II, but in September 1945 Smith received authority from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to operate aircraft service from Harvey's Lake to any point within Pennsylvania.

In 1944 Smith acquired Lake frontage adjacent to Stonehurst Lodge near Alderson (the Smith property is now the Harvey’s Lake Yacht Club).  Here, Smith built a hanger which was used for business purposes – but the hanger was not used to store his plane.  The small seaplane was always moored at a Lake dock.

Smiths Flying Plane

In late Spring a Piper Cub was prepared at Forty Fort for Lake service.  Wheels from the standard plane were removed and floats fitted in place.  The seaplane was placed on a wheeled-dolly and upon take-off the dolly would fall away and the plane taken to its base at the Lake.

The scenic flights flew only on week-ends at the Lake.  If the plane needed service it could be flown to the river near the airport – or it landed on wetted grass at the airport itself.

With a pilot, scenic flights could usually only accommodate one passenger – or perhaps an adult and child.  The flights were not extensive – generally around the key points of the Lake.  Occasionally the plane provided air taxi service to other points – or could be leased for extended viewing.

In mid-1949 the Pennsylvania Aeronautics Commission held a hearing to address opposition from the Harvey's Lake Protective Association to Smith's operation of planes on the Lake. The association believed the planes were inherently dangerous to swimmers and boaters. However, before the PAC reached a decision whether to end Smith's Lake service, Smith met with the HLPA in late June 1949. Smith agreed to limit his flying to small planes and to shorten his take-off and landing runways on the Lake - which apparently resolved the HLPA's concerns.

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Copyright 2006-2008 F. Charles Petrillo